The internet has made the service provider world very different. An amazing number of new business models have come to life that can provide an amazing amount of value if you think through your needs correctly. Being in the commercial real estate industry, this is particularly true.
Data has taken over most industries as the primary coin of the realm. They who possess the most timely and accurate data can name their price. This leads to my biggest concern when working with new companies or tools – understanding their real target customer can be difficult.
In CRE, data is largely generated through three different and distinct parties:
- End users. The companies that actually use and operate the space. They know how many people there are and what they are doing in the space.
- Building owners. They operate the core building services and control the building financials.
- Real Estate service providers/brokers. They market the building and negotiate lease terms.
Only through all three groups can you get a full picture of what is happening. Depending on where you exist in the real estate ecosystem, you have more or less access to the information from these three layers. New technology groups are popping up trying to more clearly paint the picture in each. They often offer tools to the groups in category 1 and 2 with the goal of selling it to category 2 or 3.
End users are the target with some of the most valuable data. Knowing this, it’s worthwhile to watch out for anyone offering you tools to “help solve your problem” while in reality, they are building a tool predominately to leverage your data for someone else entirely. If they can charge both sides of the equation, the technology company becomes the biggest winner.
It’s much like how the general user of Facebook is not their primary customer, the advertisers are.
It’s really simple to put out a suggestion box to get the ideas from your customers. This is a visible way of showing that you care about their perspective. People see a suggestion box and think to themselves about all the things that will be coming from their thoughts.
Most suggestion boxes lead to stacks of ideas with no visible impact. It’s really difficult to take a group of random ideas and drive them through to implementation. Even once you do push it out, how do you let the world know that you’ve done it? Was that idea actually important to a large portion of your customers or did only that one person care about it just enough to write it down?
The intake process is always easier to create than the output process. Delivery is harder than idea generation. Ideas are sexy but delivery pays the bills. Which should you be investing more into?
Time changes all things. Sometimes things change intentionally and sometimes they change simply because that is the nature of things. We hire employees and managers to enact our will but their interpretation may be flawed leading to actions that go against the direction of our mission. Sometimes they simply take the expedient route.
Moving in a direction requires effort. Much like a ship at sea with the winds and tides trying to push it off course, our businesses are constantly being pushed and pulled in other directions. “Your competitors price is like this.” “I don’t care about the value, I just want the service.” “If we don’t make an exception we will lose this customer.” These statements all lead to erosion of the mission.
The interesting thing is, at a certain point you are no longer the one receiving these demands and your other leaders are. Have you trained them in the right direction? Do they know the effect of a race to the bottom on price? Do they understand that sometimes losing a customer can be a good thing?
I’m not one of those people that believes the customer is always right. I firmly believe that my job, more often than not, is to ensure the customer makes the right decisions regardless of where their mindset currently puts them. Over at TheNextWeb they have a great article titled: The secret to super fast growth? Customer service.
The discussions follows the rise of several companies that built themselves up around customer service: Zappos, Amazon, Ritz-Carlton and Nordstrom. Companies so well known for service that it goes without saying. Each of these companies compete in highly competitive industries and each stands out because of how they treat their customers. The ensure that the experience exceeds expectations and that the details are right.
This is a lesson all of us can take away. Even if we don’t have a team of customer service specialists behind us, we can all find ways to make our customers’ lives a little better with our solutions. Surprise and delight are easy to achieve. Surprise comes from getting the unexpected – maybe an Easter Egg in your technology or a new surprise feature for free. Delight comes from pleasure – maybe we’ve made them look really good or reduced their 40 hours of reporting a month to only 1 hour. Maybe it’s as simple as we found an off-the-wall alternative solution that exceeds everything they were expecting. Maybe we simply don’t use a PowerPoint presentation and instead have an old-fashioned face-to-face conversation.
Businesses grow because they increase their revenues. Revenues increase because there are more customers. Customers spend money with you because you provide something better or different than their other options. Customer service is hard to do well consistently and to ingrain into a culture. Could it be that something you do better and differently than your competition?
Wired ran an article on the only way to win at corporate social media: actively engaging your employees. The point being that people want to talk about what they do, who they work for and why it is a good thing. Giving employees an opening to do that leads to great results. Will there be screw-ups along the way? Of course, but having a large conversation going drowns out the stupid things that come up.
Engagement is also important between employees and clients. An engaged client is often going to be happier and more profitable. They know what they are getting, why they are getting it and the value of the relationship. They are less likely to try and negotiate every single interaction. This level of engagement comes from the same place as social media engagement by employees – employees who have been setup and positioned to have unscripted conversations knowing that their employer has their back.
As Wired points out, one of the keys to all of this is setting guidelines. As long as I know the types of things I’ll get in trouble for saying (cursing in front of the client or just generally trying to undermine the organization usually) I can go in and tell them why they should get or grow a relationship.
Directv has recently been running a ton of commercials featuring Rob Lowe. One of them in particular bugs me – it’s the one that talks about their 99% reliability. Not 99.99% reliability – just 99%. Just to verify, I went to their website which says the same thing (screengrab below):
99% reliability. Said another way, 99 days out of 100 it works. Said yet another way expect to have a non-working signal between 3 and 4 days every single year. Said yet another way, expect to have a non-working signal half a week every year.
Suddenly it doesn’t sound all that great.
They get away with it because people are generally bad at crunching these kinds of numbers. 99% reliability sounds great but imagine if 1 out of every 100 text message you sent just didn’t get through to who you were sending it to, it would cause havoc.
These things are important. You are being told you are being sold a fairly unreliable service (in my opinion) but they are positioning it as if it is a strength because they don’t think you are going to actually do the math.
If they wanted to sell me on customer service, great – I’m buying. If they wanted to sell me on a better user experience in general, excellent – I’m all for it. But don’t try to pretend something bad is something good.
This is a big and serious question. At big, commission driven organizations sales is king. Innovation and applications are driven by those that earn money because they are the ones that drive the business. But can technology succeed in this type of environment? If it’s tried and doesn’t work, is it the fault of technology or the fault of the business structure?
With several years of experience and observation in several models I’ve come to the conclusion that sales and technology development are incompatible concepts. A sales leader does not have the focus to give a technology development organization the detailed consistency that they need to be successful.
By its very nature sales is an area that changes regularly – often daily. Sales is responsible for meeting with lots of clients that has lots of different needs and requirements. Every day they get new information and see new opportunities for improvement. That information funnel is too much for a technology development team. They get overwhelmed by the information input stream.
Technology development is a process that requires months of consistent focus. Any new application requires 1 to 6 to 12+ months to design, build and release. Too many changes during that release schedule leads to extra costs, schedule increases, developer frustrations, sales frustrations, and ultimately an application that doesn’t resolve the core issues that were meant to be addressed at the outset.
Yes, there is a connection between sales and technology development that must be maintained. Sales has visibility to where the market is headed and what clients need. But the information feed between the two needs to be filtered and managed.